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Shadow Minister criticises new anti-terrorism legislation.
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Sunday, 6 November 2005
Online Text: 1316796
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Shadow Minister criticises new anti-terrorism legislation.
This transcript has been prepared by a source external to the Department of the Parliamentary Library.
It may not have been checked against the broadcast or in any other way. Freedom from error, omissions or misunderstandings cannot be guaranteed.
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Sunday 6 November 2005
Arch Bevis, Shadow Minister for Homeland Security
BARRIE CASSIDY: To our program guest now - Labor's shadow minister for Homeland Security, Arch Bevis. Like his leader, Kim Beazley, Arch Bevis saw everything that the Prime Minister saw in relation to the potential terror attack - the whole document. He agreed with the Prime Minister that new legislation was needed and the Senate should be recalled. Arch Bevis, good morning.
ARCH BEVIS, SHADOW MINISTER FOR HOMELAND SECURITY: Good to be with you.
BARRIE CASSIDY: Why did you and the Opposition Leader so readily give the Prime Minister what he wanted on Wednesday?
ARCH BEVIS: Matters of security like this are not the sort of thing that you expect, that the people expect, politicians to play games with. I think the questions arising out of last week, though, are why it was John Howard decided he would stretch out the debate in the Parliament for two days. It could've been done in one day, the Senate could've sat on Wednesday and why the other alternative, which was for this matter to be dealt with next Monday, tomorrow, when the Parliament resumes, without the fuss, without the fanfare, wasn't adopted. There are some questions around that that I think go to the real heart of the way in which John Howard conducted this debate last week.
BARRIE CASSIDY: But you gave him the original support. No imminent threat, nothing too specific?
ARCH BEVIS: The documentation, which of course I'm not in a position to talk about in any detail, but the documentation that was there provided enough information that I think the Government had open to it a legitimate decision to want to change the law and to do it quickly. That said, if it was going to change the law quickly, it could've done that, and we offered to make sure that the Parliament could sit that night, there were enough senators in town, the Senate estimates were on. If it was deemed to be that urgent, it could've been done then. But just have a look at the way this debate was handled. John Howard spent the first part of the week talking up the threat, talking up the urgency of it, and as soon as Parliament rose on Thursday, then started talking down any prospect that there might be any charges laid in the immediate future. Well, he can't have it both ways.
BARRIE CASSIDY: You're saying he could've done it in 24 hours, should've done it in 24 hours. Were the circumstances in the document that you saw, were the circumstances that immediate action was necessary, that waiting a few days was not an option?
ARCH BEVIS: I think that's a line-ball call. Intelligence reports that I've seen over the years tend not to be a complete picture. I mean, you get information on things that are happening and then you make informed assessments about what may flow from that. In those situations I think people of good will can genuinely have a line-ball call to make. So I'm not critical of the decision to bring on what was, in many respects, a pretty unexceptional bill for urgent consideration, if the judgment was made that it was indeed imminent. But like I said, you can't have it both ways. You can't say on Wednesday and Thursday there's an imminent threat and then say on Friday but don't expect anything to happen in the near future. And that's what John Howard did last week.
BARRIE CASSIDY: Did you expect that charges would be laid as a result of this?
ARCH BEVIS: Look, that's a matter for the people who have to actually lay the charges - the police and the DPP. And as an Opposition, whilst we get some information, we don't get the weekly security briefings, we're not in daily contact with the AFP, the Federal Police or the Director of Public Prosecutions. So frankly, that's a judgment that only the government of the day can make. But we were willing in good faith to accept our responsibility, in the national interest, to facilitate that activity last week, to ensure the legislation could be put in place. You have to ask yourself, I think, in the light of the way that the Prime Minister then decided to conduct affairs, whether or not it was something of a smokescreen.
BARRIE CASSIDY: And given that background, Kim Beazley now says that John Howard exploits security matters for his own political purposes. How will you go into meetings into the future, with a bit more scepticism than you demonstrated on Wednesday?
ARCH B EVIS: There was a healthy degree of scepticism last week, as there always is in these matters, but Barrie the public would expect all members of Parliament, whether they're in the government or the opposition, to err on the side of protecting the safety of Australians. We were willing to do that. We were willing to support the Government being able to get that technical amendment through the Parliament. It's a matter for the Government to administer those laws, it's a matter for the Government to follow through on it, and time will tell whether or not the Government were fair dinkum on this.
BARRIE CASSIDY: But you can see why some of your own supporters must be confused by this at times because you constantly say John Howard can't be trusted - look at weapons of mass destruction, look at kids overboard. Whenever the Prime Minister goes to you and says, "Trust me", you trust him.
ARCH BEVIS: He has form, you're right about that, Barrie. That's a worry in itself, isn't it, when you have a situation that we do now where there is a global terrorist threat. Australia, frankly, is at a greater risk because this government has committed us to Iraq and yet when the Prime Minister makes a statement as he did earlier this week, half the population wonder whether he's fair dinkum.
BARRIE CASSIDY: But on the other hand, they must think you're talking politics when you say he can't be trusted. When it comes to the crunch, you do trust him.
ARCH BEVIS: What would you suggest is the better alternative when these things are presented to us? There is credible evidence from the intelligence agencies that could reasonably be interpreted as a problem in the short term. Now, my view is - as I said a moment ago - I'll err on the side of protecting the safety and interests of the Australian people first and foremost, and hope that the Government are doing what they should be doing in these critical matters of security, and that is, putting the interests of the Australian security first and foremost. Time will tell whether that's what they've done.
BARRIE CASSIDY: There seems to be briefing going on. Certainly it seems the New South Wales police in particular feel that the decision to reveal the terror threat has jeopardised their work. In retrospect, do you think that is right?
ARCH BEVIS: Well, it's hard to know at the moment, and from the distance we're at, whether that is so. But it was certainly a consideration we raised, hence the alternative option of letting the Parliament deal with it tomorrow when it would've been able to go through Parliament without great fanfare in a day, the laws could've been enacted and if there was a need for police to follow up, they could've done that immediately. Unfortunately, the Government chose not to take that path. I hope that it has not jeopardised any operational issues. I hope that John Howard's decision to drag this out over two days and put it in neon lights last week has not jeopardised operational issues, but we'll just have to wait and see.
BARRIE CASSIDY: I wonder, though, given the briefings that seem to be going on, whether there is a turf war going on between the federal bodies and the State police and if there is, is that a worry?
ARCH BEVIS: All of the information I have received is that on these matters, the Commonwealth and the states and territories work hand in glove. The security forces work close together. There is an issue about ensuring that the, at an operational level, that the information and excuse of the activities are handled in a close cooperative way, but there's been a lot of good work put in by the states and the territories into this. And I think if there is some frustration amongst the State bodies involved with this particular activity, it is because they wonder whether or not things have been jeopardised by the Prime Minister's behaviour last week.
BARRIE CASSIDY: On the terror laws more generally, why is it that Labor has signed off on this now and yet the Liberal backbench is still hard at work, trying to force more changes?
ARCH BEVIS: We'll be moving some amendments next week, let me assure you. We've made it clear from the start, in fact, before John Howard even called the COAG meeting, we said there needed to be nationally consistent laws and we put out a number of statements. Kim Beazley, before COAG met, set out a number of powers we thought were necessary to deal with terrorism, together with a raft of safeguards, some benchmarks against which we said we would measure future laws. In fact, the States have been very successful in seeing a number of those changes made. Some of the areas in the bill, though, are outside of the COAG agreement, like sedition. And there are major concerns we have with aspects of those draft sedition laws and we will be pursuing those in the Parliament next week.
BARRIE CASSIDY: In your press release on Wednesday, you identified four areas in which the Government had backed down and took some credit for that. In fact, you said now we have a much fairer system. You didn't mention sedition in that press release as an outstanding issue.
ARCH BEVIS: No, Barrie, I was talking there about the COAG agreement and the improvements that have been won to provide proper judicial oversight. One of the things we said before COAG met was a test we would apply. You have to remember where this started. John Howard's preferred law would've seen Australians taken off the street, locked up for two weeks, without ever going to court just because a politician and a public servant thought they should be. That's where John Howard wanted the law to be. We made it clear before the COAG meeting we would not tolerate that. The states have succeeded. Not only have they succeeded there, but we've also succeeded in getting some decent parliamentary scrutiny of it. It was only a week ago, a little over a week ago, the Attorney-General and the Prime Minister were saying this bill would be introduced into the Parliament on Melbourne Cup Day and debated there and then. We've been successful in ensuring that there's going to be a proper debate in the Parliament and that a Senate committee will get more than the one day, John Howard was willing to originally give it to look at this bill. Now, as part of that process, we'll go through a number of things, some of which are the subject of COAG, but about which we still have concerns, and of course, the sedition laws which were not part of COAG. And we will be moving amendments in relation to both of those areas.
BARRIE CASSIDY: But how important is sedition, how far do you go? Do you put the whole bill in jeopardy for the sake of the sedition clauses?
ARCH BEVIS: No, we haven't said we'll be doing that, but what we have said is that the sedition laws, which frankly are pretty antiquated, they haven't been used, the best advice I can get is they've been once in about 1950 and before that you probably go back to the rum rebellion. These are not what you would call contemporary laws. If the Government are now going to try and revamp them and make them laws that are used, then we have to be certain we've got it right. We're concerned about a number of aspects of those sedition laws. The fact you could have, for example, peaceful protests and end up being charged with sedition. That doesn't seem right. The fact that artistic or fair comment may well be caught in some of the sedition laws. And Philip Ruddock, even this week in the Parliament, has demonstrated his lack of confidence in his own bill by pointing out that he intends to have his department review the sedition laws. Well, if he hasn't got the bill right now, on sedition, why is the Parliament being asked to vote on it? If we know now there are flaws and it needs to be be viewed, why doesn't he want to press ahead with his current form of words
BARRIE CASSIDY: Thanks for your time this morning, appreciate it.
ARCH BEVIS: Thanks, Barrie.